Ultra Swank - Retro Adventures

Century 21 – Seattle World’s Fair 1962

Written by Katharine Miller • January 17th, 2011
Century 21 – Seattle World’s Fair 1962

Let’s climb aboard the Alweg Monorail in Downtown Seattle and take a trip back to the 1962 World’s Fair: Man in the Space Age. The Century 21 Exposition brought the first World’s Fair in North America since 1940 and the United States was eager to demonstrate its new ideas and advancements in technology, science and entertainment.

Rapid technological advancements, Googie architecture, and the Space Race tantalized imaginations with the possibilities of the 21st century and beyond. The Future promised push button telephones and flying cars. While innovations raced towards the future, values remained firmly rooted in the past. Kitchen gadgets targeted housewives while innovations in office communication targeted businessmen. Nuclear families would populate the suburbs of the Moon in the 21st century.

The Space Age theme indicated big ideas but, when compared to other World’s Fair of the era, the Exposition was a low-key event. A mere 10 million people were in attendance at Seattle’s 1962 fair—a modest turnout next to the 40-60 million who attended Brussels ’58, New York ’64, and Montreal ’67. Even President Kennedy phoned in his introduction to the fair.

But there was one person in attendance whose pelvic gyrations sent many girls’ hearts flying higher than the Space Needle. Music and film sensation Elvis Presley stopped by to film some scenes for It Happened at the World’s Fair. The movie, set and filmed at the Century 21 site, is one of the rare instances of a world’s fair serving as a backdrop in a film. Other films are Centennial Summer (Philadelphia 1876), So Long at the Fair (Paris 1889), and Meet Me in St. Louis (St. Louis 1904).

Now that we’re experiencing the 21st century firsthand, we’ve seen many innovations from 1962 enter into widespread use and fall into disuse in just under 50 years. Some of the more ambitious and fantastic concepts remain dreams for a distant future. It’s nice to look back and compare the Futures of Yesterday and Today, to recall a time of innocent optimism, and perhaps tantalize imaginations with the possibilities beyond the 21st century.

Katharine Miller

Katharine Miller is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in Toronto, Canada. She's currently working on a graphic novel series, Robot of Leisure.

Find out more about Katharine Miller

  • Thanks for the memories. I remember visiting the grounds as a little kid maybe ten years after the fact, and thinking it seemed kind of dated and worn at the time. But amazing too. Then I recognize the fountain at 2:16 in the video. As that kid I had ventured close to it and then ran in horror when the water spurted up again — and I fell and cut my back open. I have a scar to this day. Another reason for this Portlander to resent Seattle ; )

  • Seattle World Fair 1962
    Can it get any goofier?


  • jnr2223

    “Now that we’re experiencing the 21st century firsthand, we’ve seen many innovations from 1962 enter into widespread use and fall into disuse in just under 50 years. Some of the more ambitious and fantastic concepts remain dreams for a distant future.”  
    Yeah well, it’s not like we COULDN’T be living modern – it’s all about a huge ANTI-MODERN ‘special interest group’ that slammed our door to the.. ‘future’, shut.  But still, if one looks around..  traces of a wonderful future still exist.  And the rest of the MODERN world is doing so. Like the maglevs..  and don’t forget – EVER, that we, the United States.. were once upon a time.. a TRUE interplanetary society. Able to repeatably visit the moon.. and we even brought our ride..!! We not only walked on the moon – WE DROVE around on the MOON.. exploring…!!!!    

Get all the goods straight to your inbox